Super League XX gets underway tonight as last years runners up Wigan Warriors take on the Widnes Vikings at the Select Security Stadium, but what can we look forward to this season?
Well for starters it is a new look, and a new structure, and with less teams than before.
This season will see a 12 team Super League, and a 12 team Championship, but unlike in seasons past every team will have something to play for right up until the final whistle.
The 12 Super League clubs play each other twice, home and away, during the regular season (22 fixtures) plus one fixture at Magic Weekend. The 12 Championship clubs will also play 23 matches, home and away plus one fixture at the Summer Bash.
After playing 23 fixtures, the 24 Super League and Championship clubs will split based on league positions into three groups called the Super 8s. The top eight will continue as Super League, the middle eight will be the Qualifiers and the third eight will be the Championship Shield.
Clubs will then each play seven further fixtures on a league basis.
Clubs which have performed strongest in their respective competitions in the regular season will be rewarded with four fixtures as follows: the top four Super League clubs will play four home matches; in the Qualifiers, the team finishing ninth and 10th in Super League and the top two teams from the Championship will have four home matches; and in the Championship Shield, clubs finishing the regular Championship season in 5th to 8th place will have four home fixtures.
In Super League and Championship Shield, the competing clubs will carry over the points and scoring records from the regular season into the Super 8s. The Qualifiers will start with zero points because the eight clubs are drawn from two different competitions.
Once the seven matches have been played the top four clubs in Super League will go into the play-offs: 1st v 4th and 2nd v 3rd. The winners of those two matches will contest the Super League Grand Final, and all eight Super League clubs are guaranteed top flight status for the following season.
In the Qualifiers, the top three clubs at the conclusion of the Super 8s are also guaranteed Super League status the following season. The 12th place in Super League for the following season will be determined by the Million Pound Game, a play-off between the 4th and 5th placed clubs played at the home of the 4th placed club.
In the Championship Shield, the top four clubs enter a play-off, 1st v 4th and 2nd v 3rd, with the winners contesting the Championship Shield final.
The bottom two teams (7th and 8th) in the Championship Shield will be relegated to League 1.
We hope all that made sense!
It does seem a bit confusing, but all experts seem to agree it will make for a much more entertaining league, and will probably be a format that stays in place for many years to come.
It also should be noted that the Magic Weekend is moving to the North East this year. Having been at Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium the last 3 years it is off to Newcastle’s St James’ Park on the 30th and 31st of May.
This year of the 12 teams in the Super League 11 of them will be from the North of England, with the exception being the French team the Catalans Dragons, and won’t feature the 4 time Super League Champions the Bradford Bulls, who were relegated last season as part of the restructuring of the leagues.
Last years champions St Helens begin their campaign against the previously mentioned Catalans Dragons at Langtree Park on Friday night.
For more information please see the Super League website.